The text considered here is an Irish Book of Simple Medicines of the 15th century in the traditional European form. A short chapter is devoted to each drug, and the chapters are arranged in more or less alphabetical order of the Latin names of the drugs, the names that appear to have been used by the apothecaries. In most cases, the Latin heading of the chapter is followed by the Irish name of the drug, the qualities of the drug (hot, cold, dry, wet), the virtues of the drug, stated in general terms (e. g. styptic), and some of the specific uses of the drug.
The book appears to have played a significant part in the process of familiarising the Irish physicians with European pharmacy. It came early in the course of the adoption in Ireland of European medicine, and the number of copies of it that survive, and the influence it appears to have had on later medical writings, indicates that it was widely used.
The author of the book was Tadhg Ó Cuinn, bachelor of physic, and it was written in the year 1415, as is stated at the end of the work, where it is also stated that the work was based on the antidotaries and herbals of the city of Salerno, according to the consensus of the studium i.e. college) of the doctors of Montpellier. It is likely that the author took his degree at the famous medical school of Montpellier in the South of France, but there is no direct evidence on the point. As well as for its medical school, Montpellier was also famous as a centre of the spice trade, and its merchants did a considerable trade with nearby Gascony, which was a possession of the English king. Tomás Ó Concheanainn (1976, p. 165) says that it may be inferred that Tadhg Ó Cuinn belonged to some branch of the Ui Chuinn of Munster (maybe of Inchiquin, Co. Clare), from the fact that all the known scribes of his works were of families native to the Southern half, families named Mac Gaisin, Ó Bolgaidhe, Ó Callannáin and Ó Leighin. It would appear that Ó Cuinn employed some of his students as amanuenses, and that he dictated his material to them. In her note on the manuscript G11 (1967, p. 71), Nessa Ní Shéaghdha gives the names of certain of these amanuenses, Gilla Padraic hí Challannáin, Aenghus hi Callannan, Aodh mac Caisin, Nicol Ó hIceadha. She says that other translations attributed to Tadhg Ó Cuinn include the Commentary of Geraldus de Solo on the ninth book of Rhases' Almanzor (NLIre MS G11), and a treatise on various diseases (RIA 23 M 36, p. 118), and she mentions the possibility that he also translated certain paragraphs on medical and physiological subjects contained in MS RIA 24 P 3.
The present work consists of a compilation in Irish of extracts from various Latin works that were in general use by medical people throughout the Middle Ages. It is possible that whatÓ Cuinn had before him were not complete copies of the works in question, but a compendium on the lines of the Herbal of Rufinus (ed. Thorndike, 1946), containing verbatim extracts from a number of authors. In this connection, an interesting possibility arises. About the year 1322, the Medical Faculty of Paris ordered that all apothecaries should possess a copy of the Antidotarium Nicolai; in 1422 they were required to have the Synonima Serapionis correcta and the Circa Instans of Platearius: Trease (1959) 22, 47. These ordinances may have been erecting into law something that was the normal practice of most respectable apothecaries. In that case, it is possible that Tadhg Ó Cuinn borrowed the books he needed for the purposes of his present text from a friendly apothecary. The apothecary would inevitably have been based in a town, and he would have been Anglo-Irish. Reference is made in the Glossary to some examples of what appears to be the influence of the English tradition on the Irish text, and these further indications strengthen the implications of the circumstances described in Chapter 3 that there must have been a certain amount of cooperation between the Gaelic physicians and the Anglo-Irish apothecaries.